Now, weight loss has definitely got to be one of the most common body goals in today’s day and age. However, it may seem that some have more of an interest in gaining weight. When it comes to the likes of bodybuilding, strength and certain team sports, dirty bulking is a phrase that is often thrown about.
We’re going to take a look into dirty bulking and all of the following:
- Side effects
- Foods to eat
- Foods to avoid
- How effective the method actually is
What is a dirty bulk?
Generally speaking, a bulking diet is a controlled phase where you’d be combining a caloric surplus with resistance training to increase muscle mass and strength. A calorie surplus involves consuming more calories than you burn. However, this can lead to weight gain in the form of muscle or body fat.
Well, that’s a normal bulking cycle. Then you have dirty bulking, which goes one step beyond. This sort of bulking phase is undertaken over a period of time and involves gaining weight any way you can. The goal of course is to promote muscle and strength gains. You’d then usually pair this with high intensity resistance workouts to accompany these changes.
Unlike a cleaner lean bulking diet, this approach is favoured by many bodybuilders, weightlifters, powerlifters, and even just the average gym-goer looking at gaining muscle. When you’re following a dirty bulk, there are no foods that are off-limits. The top goal is to eat as much as you can tolerate to increase body mass. In some cases, high calorie shakes and powders are used throughout a dirty bulk to increase the number of calories which then leads to gaining muscle mass. Now, this may work for some, but others could find that the negative side effects that come with it outweigh the benefits.
Are there other types of diets to gain mass?
In order to gain mass, including that healthy weight, you’re required to be in a calorie surplus. You may also want to add more lean protein, weight training and rest days in too. Whilst not having to worry about the amount of junk food you’re consuming may seem like a dream, that may not be the reality. It may be, that like many people find out, it is hard to gain lean muscle without more body fat.
What obviously plays a huge role here is your diet. The types of food and how much you eat can really have an impact on the type of weight you gain, body fat or muscle. So, how can you get the muscle building and not fat gain?
When it comes to muscle building diets, there are two main types. You have a clean bulk also known as lean bulking and then the dirty bulk. The latter usually involves a high-calorie intake full of junk foods to boost fat intake and promote fast weight gain. Alternatively, a clean bulk optimizes a much more moderate increase to your maintenance calories with a proper diet and healthy foods.
But when it comes to achieving optimal mass and your dream body composition, which is best?
Dirty bulk vs clean bulk
Typically used in the context of bulking vs cutting, bulking is a phase to change your body composition by eating extra calories and packing on more muscle mass. As a clean bulk is healthier, your diet is likely to include calorie dense foods, healthy fats as well as starchy vegetables and protein for those all-important amino acids.
We know by now what dirty bulking is, so let’s find out about the clean version. Clean bulking is a type of bulking that tries to best promote clean eating, whilst being in a calorie surplus. This means that you should aim to consume whole, healthy foods that are full of essential nutrients and do not have many extra calories from added sugars or dietary fats. Whilst it is not always considered part of a clean bulk, tracking calories, and maintaining a steady, calculated surplus is often a strategy utilized in clean bulking.
As well as your controlled calorie surplus you’ll also need to couple this up with strength training to build muscle and prevent any unwanted fat gain. This is a method often utilized by athletes who can’t afford to gain too much body fat when attempting to grow muscle, lean mass and improve overall health.
Although it is quite clear that clean bulking is healthier than dirty bulking in many ways, you’ve got to bear in mind that it’s not as flexible and runs a higher risk of stalled muscle gain.
Is a dirty bulk diet effective?
It’s as simple as – the more calories you eat, the more weight you can gain, and quickly too. This is why so many desire to do a dirty bulk. Your bulking phase is likely to be a success if you’re eating junk food in the form of ultra processed foods and ensuring you’re consuming excess calories.
Doing all this, all you’ll be doing is gaining fat, surely? But let’s take a look at how fast muscle gain, in particular, can happen during a dirty bulk, as well as the other benefits associated…
Rate of muscle growth
There is some research available, looking at trained athletes and the rate of muscle gain, which included a nutrition-controlled group and ad libitum group. The nutrition-controlled group followed a macro-controlled diet plan that aimed to promote weight gain of 0.7% total bodyweight per week or approximately an increase of 500 calories per day. The diet was high protein (1.4 to 2 grams of protein per kg body weight) and less than 30% of calories from dietary fat and suggested 5 to 7 nutritious meals throughout the day. Post-workout nutrition was also included.
The ad libitum group did not receive any nutritional counseling and were asked to increase their intake on their own with the same weight gain goal of 0.7% body weight gain per week.
Whilst the protein intake remained similar in each of the groups, calorie intake was actually higher in the nutrition-controlled group, and thus resulted in more weight gain – 0.4% body weight per week compared to 0.2%. And nearly 72% of total weight gain in the nutrition-controlled group was muscle mass.
Increased calories were clearly something to do with the increased mass in this study, but protein intake is also an important factor to consider. Protein plays a crucial role in gaining lean mass because amino acids are the building blocks of all muscle. This means that without adequate protein intake, muscle gain is difficult to achieve. There is another small study where participants were fed an extra 1,000 calories a day to promote weight gain, with varying amounts of protein at either 5%, 15%, or 25% of their calories. All participants in each of the protein groups gained weight, apart from the low protein group who gained significantly less weight.
Potential benefits of a dirty bulk
Ensures a calorie surplus
As crazy as some of us may think this is, many people find it difficult to lose weight, but others find it even more difficult to gain weight. For these individuals, a dirty bulk could be a helpful tool, as it usually promotes a significant calorie surplus and thus leads to weight gain.
The weight gain is then best translated to muscle gain when matched up with a well balanced resistance training routine.
With those more conservative weight gain methods, results may be quite slow due to an insufficient calorie surplus. Thus, a dirty bulk may be more beneficial than a lean bulk in this context.
Can support muscle growth and boost strength gains
In this situation, we typically want to gain weight in order to promote muscle and strength gains in strength, body composition, and some team sports.To get those muscle gains, you’ll need a sufficient calorie surplus, usually 10–20% additional calories for most people. However, a dirty bulk will usually exceed this range, thus likely contributing to sizable muscle and strength gains for most people when combined with a proper resistance workout routine.
Dirty bulk: are there any side effects?
Along with the potential of gaining muscle and strength associated with dirty bulking, it comes with some possible negative side effects too. We told you that eating junk food was just too good to be true…
May cause you to gain weight
When you’re on a dirty bulk, it is highly unlikely that you’d track your calorie intake is not. This makes it somewhat easier to achieve a calorie surplus, which then obviously leads to weight gain. Though some of this weight will be from added muscle, a sizable percentage will be from added fat mass.
When it comes to strength and physique sports, like bodybuilding, the goal is usually to maximize strength and muscle gains, respectively.
Specifically, in physique sports, competitors are judged on their muscle shape and size. Studies have shown that excess fat gain would likely make it more difficult to get into shape when it comes to competition time.
In terms of strength and power sports like Olympic weightlifting and powerlifting, there are usually weight classes within which competitors must compete. Excessive fat gain could potentially make it harder to achieve a given weight class.
Lastly, for the gym-goers looking to put on some muscle, gaining too much fat may inhibit your goal of improving physique. Sucks, right?
Can affect blood sugar levels
Along with the potential for excessive fat gain, there are other possible negative health effects to consider. When following a dirty bulk, the intake of processed carbs and saturated fats is usually rather high.
Consuming too many of these foods has been associated with elevated cholesterol and blood sugar levels, leading to an increased risk of health conditions like high blood pressure, stroke, cancer, and diabetes.
It’s important to note that most studies on the topic have been conducted in non-exercising individuals.
Though starting a dirty bulk may increase your short-term risk of certain health conditions, resuming a nutritious, unprocessed diet will likely undo these effects.
The best way to monitor these important health markers is to have a blood test at least once per year, along with a physical. More frequent testing may be beneficial if you have a history of a certain health condition.
The potential to feel sluggish
When following a dirty bulk, high calorie foods are eaten to promote weight gain.
Many of these foods are processed and contain large amounts of refined sugars and sodium, which can lead to water retention and fluctuations in blood sugar levels – neither of which you want, obviously.
This may leave you feeling sluggish after several days of following the diet.
One study suggests that a diet high in simple carbs can lead to increased fatigue and symptoms of depression.
These symptoms must be taken into consideration before starting a dirty bulk.
Not suitable long term
Though dirty bulking can be effective in certain situations, it’s usually better off followed as a short-term approach during the off-season of various sports.
Following a dirty bulk for an extended period can lead to compromised health.
Muscle building foods during a dirty bulk
When following a dirty bulk, there are not many foods that are off-limits due to the diet’s unrestrictive nature. Here are some foods to eat and avoid:
Foods to eat
- High protein foods, such as red meat, fish, poultry (chicken breasts), dairy, tofu, tempeh
- Protein powders and high-calorie mass gain powders
- Breakfast cereal and cereal bars
- Fruits and vegetables
- Whole eggs
- Nuts and nut butters
- High carb dishes
- Baked goods
- Calorie rich foods like pizza, pasta and fast food
- Even little things like olive oil, just 1 tablespoon can pack 119 calories
Foods to avoid
- Foods that may cause negative health effects when eaten in large quantities, such as liver, Brazil nuts, and mercury-containing fish
- Low calorie, diet, or sugar-free foods
The importance of nutrient dense foods
We know that building muscle and bulking diets require an increase in protein and calories. While we can continue to argue over whether or not a clean bulk or dirty bulk approach supplies these to the diet best, your overall health and nutrition should be your main focus.
There are particular vitamins and minerals we need in order to support muscle growth. Nutrition is also key for recovery, reduced risk of disease, more energy, better mood, and overall wellbeing. So including more nutritious food options into your bulking diet could offer additional advantages.
Lean bulking usually emphasizes more nutrient-dense and whole foods. This route has the potential to supply more nutrients than a dirty bulk – which is loaded with heavily processed foods and empty calories. Studies suggest that vitamins A, C, and E may play a role in supporting muscle growth.
But where can you find these vitamins? Well, unsurprisingly, they’re most commonly found in fruits and vegetables. Additionally, the correct levels of B vitamins, zinc, vitamin D, and calcium are also thought to be important, with meat and dairy being the best sources.
And it’s not so much the amount of food you are eating but the type of foods that matter. Even at higher calorie levels, nutrition deficiencies occur – a large number of people in this country are overfed and undernourished. If a majority of calories are coming from high fat, high sugar, or heavily processed foods, you could be missing out on a lot of essential nutrition to support your muscle-building efforts.
What is not considered is everything else you’re consuming as well as the calories. Surely we’ve got to factor in those not-so-healthy ingredients somewhere?
There’s added sugar, trans fats, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, etc. Higher intakes of ultra processed foods have been linked to a number of chronic diseases and increased inflammation. Whilst these concerns may not directly affect your ability to build muscle mass, this level of poor food choices can really add up and negatively impact your life and longevity over time.
A clean bulk (in comparison to a daunting dirty bulk) also sets you up for more success on a maintenance diet following your bulk. This allows you to continue to instil healthier habits.
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